The Japan Diaries: Personal Uniform

5 things you should own for your closet, inspired by Japan.

After the first day of classes at Doshisha – the Japanese university in which our study abroad program was located and affiliated with – my friend Ellen was like, “Well shit.” We were in the main cafeteria, scavenging for seats amid the lunch hour rush, tightly clasping our trays. She was actually referring to the students – not so much their cumulative congestion – dressed impeccably as though out of fashion magazines, with spunky-colored hair, shoes so flashy that you didn’t know which to look at first. Friend groups were coordinated down to their shoelaces and belt chains, radiating an intimidating yet covetable cool. “Everyone looks fucking incredible,” she said. 

Ellen, though, was stylishly dressed herself, wearing peachy pink platforms that matched with her handbag, a black-and-white checkered skirt, and white ruffle button-down. Her glasses were glistening silver with thin, chic frames, blonde curls held up with a cherry-shaped hair tie; she was objectively cute. “I feel underdressed,” she muttered. Even if you thought you looked good, there was definitely some Doshisha kid that looked better. We watched as a lavender-haired girl, in her black pleated skirt and leather tabi boots walk past us with grace, heels clicking like heartbeats with every step. 

We were coming from American universities in which the standard uniform on a Monday was, in contrast, an old T-shirt paired with sweatpants (jeans if you particularly felt like dressing up), a school hoodie in colder weather. There was nothing too out of the ordinary, subdued tones and muted colors. The day-to-day on campus was hardly about looking your best as much as it was getting to class on time. It was largely convenience and comfort over style. In Japan, however, we were sharpening the wings of our eyeliner like weaponry to look presentable, ready, as an expectation, on the daily.  

“I think we’re conscious of our image wherever we go,” my Japanese friend Kaoru suggested. It was a Wednesday, summer still lingering in September, and we were seated on the floor of her apartment with beaded sweat in front of the fan. She was daintily dabbing her forehead with blotting paper as to avoid wiping away her makeup. “Might be a big city thing, too. And it’s sort of an unspoken rule in Japan: everyone’s expected to be the same. Fashion is a means of expression and getting around that rule.”  

Doshisha, to be noted, has an unofficial reputation for schooling the richest, most fashionable kids among the universities in the Kansai region; Maison Margiela tabi boots and Off-White industrial belts are not rarities on campus. That said, money, of course, affords you a larger pool of brands and niches of style, but money and fashion are not necessarily correlated; the average Doshisha kid shops at GU and WEGO – Japanese retail companies that boast affordability – and still looks good. And take the bus down to Shijo, Kyoto’s central shopping precinct, and immediately accessible is the latest fast fashion lined along the streets, everywhere you look. 

Here’s some things you should own for your closet, inspired by Japan: 

1. Beret

I’m a little biased with this one, but adding a beret to your outfit can easily make you appear more dressed up. They’re versatile, and come in endless styles (e.g. leather trim, military) and prints (e.g. leopard, houndstooth). 

2. Oversized blazer

An oversized blazer creates a boxy yet intriguing silhouette—complete the look with either fitted trousers or skinny pants for fun juxtaposition all around. 

3. Patterned trousers

Whether it’s gingham or tartan, polka dot and so forth, patterned trousers give an additional dimension to any outfit. Try: wearing solid colors everywhere else to make the trousers pop, or even pattern on top of pattern for some spunk. 

4. Flare pants

Who says flare pants were out after the 2000s? The bell-shaped bottoms give funky shape to an otherwise ordinary silhouette. 

5. Handkerchief scarf

Accessories are key—add a subtle pattern and a bit of posh to your look with a handkerchief scarf around your neck. 

Sylvia Yu

Contributor

Sylvia is likely wearing a black beret. She's a fan of ruminating, admiring everyday design, and shopping at the dried fruit aisle in Trader Joe's (in no particular order) - sometimes all three at once.

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